Printable Version
Pronunciation: pæt-nê, pê-tee-nê Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A color change from age or use that makes a surface more attractive. 2. A superficial coating, layer or encrustation, as 'a patina of accumulated grime'. 3. A suggestive or immediate impression, an aura brought to mind by appearance and demeanor, as 'to exude a patina of wealth and good breeding'.

Notes: This lovely word is heard far less in speech than it deserves. We have our choice of plurals, patinae or patinas. The former makes it even more special. It comes with a verb, patinate "to bring about a patina", which leads to an action noun, patination.

In Play: Green patinaPatinas differ in color. They are usually olive green on nonferrous metals: "The bronze sculpture had stood in his garden for many years and developed a lovely green patina." This is different from the effect it has on wood: "The sun down South brings on a soothing gray patina to the redwood siding on all the homes it adorns." People may have patinas as well: "Bill Jerome Holms lives in an old stone house that has a patina of Roman ruins."

Word History: Gray patinaToday's Good Word has a fascinating history. It was borrowed by English from Italian patina, which Italian inherited from Latin patina "dish, shallow pan". The Romans ate from bronze and pewter plates that tended to patinate. The Romans created their word from PIE pete- "to spread"; spreading tends to flatten substances. We see the same root in Greek petalon "leaf", whence English petal, things that tend to spread out as they grow. English pan comes from Old English panna borrowed from Vulgar (Street) Latin patna, a reduction of patina, with the replacement of T by N. Since PIE [p] became [f] and [t] became [th] in Germanic languages, we are not surprised to find the PIE word in English fathom, a measurement approximately the spread of outstretched adult arms. (Now let's thank Rob Towart, who has the patina of a dyed-in-the-wool word-lover, for suggesting today's lovely and fascinating Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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